Some of the most influential and successful people in the area’s artistic, cultural and historical communities were recognized Wednesday night.
The second annual Orillia Regional Arts and Heritage Awards, presented by the Orillia and District Arts Council and the Orillia Museum of Art and History (OMAH), was pre-recorded at the Leacock Museum and posted online Wednesday night.
The celebration was hosted by Jacqueline Surette, the City of Orillia’s manager of culture.
With a record number of nominations, “the jury had a hard time not giving an award out to each nominee,” she said.
First up was the Education in the Arts, Culture and Heritage Award, which “recognizes an educator, not necessarily a teacher by profession, whose knowledge and teaching skills inspire others to pursue their interest in the arts and heritage.”
The award went to the Otter Art Club. (Information about runners-up can be found at the end of this article.)
Travis Shilling and Naomi Woodman started the Otter Art Club in 2018 to provide local youth with studio time as well as professional artist instruction and materials. Their work has been on display in art shows and at local cafés.
“We’d just like to say thank you for this award. It’s greatly appreciated,” Shilling said. “It’s nice to be recognized, although that’s not what we’re here for. We’re here for the young artists — young artists, older artists, people that want to be around what we’re doing and what we’ve been trying to do.”
They dedicated the award to Jeff Miller, an artist who died in March. Shilling referred to him as “one of Orillia’s most important artists.”
“Jeff Miller was one of the great arts educators. He was an inspiration. He was a very close friend and one of Orillia’s great artists,” Shilling said. “He taught us about how important it is to get back to nature … and make things.”
The Emerging Artist Award, recognizing an individual with a career of less than five years in the arts, went to Marta Solek.
A multi-instrumentalist, Solek graduated from the Academy of Music in Kraków, Poland, specializing in cello and world/Polish knee fiddles.
She and her husband immigrated from Poland to Canada in 2017.
“Carving out a niche within the industry can be difficult at best. However, Marta was also quite new to Canada,” Surette said.
Solek has since taught in communities between here and the Greater Toronto Area and she teaches cello at the Orillia Music Centre.
She has also been involved with the Cellar Singers and the Orillia Vocal Ensemble.
“I am beyond words. I'm very happy,” Solek said. “From the first day I moved here, I was so much welcomed and I am so grateful and happy to be part of this beautiful artistic community.”
For more than a century, there was no sovereign Polish state, Solek explained.
“Our culture survived only because of music. During this time when Poland was torn apart from different countries, we had Chopin, the famous composer, and he was basing his music on the folk music from Poland,” she said. “We are in very difficult times now. We are all struggling and I just want to say to please support the culture. Don’t forget about music. Don’t forget about musicians because music is something that makes us more human, something that can bring us together, something that gives us hope and love.”
The Heritage: Restoration, Renovation and Publication Award, which “recognizes an individual or group who brought to life regional history through a physical restoration or creation of a permanent public record,” went to Sarah Pickard and her Sawbone Society.
The group is made up of people who grew up having summer jobs at the Coldwater Canadiana Heritage Museum. They provided guided walking tours during the village’s annual Steampunk Festival. When they heard the museum would be closed this year because of the pandemic, “they were devastated,” Surette said.
“Quick-thinking Sarah Pickard asked the museum board if they could perhaps film the walking tours they had developed,” she said, noting that’s how the Sawbone Society was born.
“I’m grateful for the honour and the recognition of the work that the Sawbone Society has done in bringing history to life. It is by no means work that I could’ve done on my own,” Pickard said.
She thanked her fellow group members as well as Steampunk Festival organizer Suzy Burtenshaw, “without whom this award and the Sawbone Society as a whole would not be possible.”
The next award handed out was Event in the Arts, Culture and Heritage. As its name implies, the award “recognizes an individual, organization or corporation for their part in organizing a single or annual event that showcases the region’s creative talent or cultural heritage.”
This year’s recipient was Kevin Gangloff for his work with the Roots North Music Festival and Roots North Revisited.
“These events and this nomination doesn’t happen with one person,” he said. “It’s gratifying to be recognized, but it’s also pertinent that I mention the fact that without Steve Orr and Dapper Depot Menswear, none of what I’ve been able to accomplish over the last number of years is possible.”
Orr has been a generous supporter of and donor to events like Roots North that have benefited local youth.
In the past couple of years, more than $50,000 has been raised. All of that money has gone toward helping youth, mostly with a focus on arts and culture.
Next up was the Qennefer Browne Achievement Award, which “recognizes an individual or group of individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to the cultural life of their community.” Browne was a dedicated supporter of various arts and culture endeavours in the area.
The award went to Roy Menagh.
“Roy personifies an individual devoted to enhancing, advocating for and contributing to the Orillia-and-area cultural community,” Surette said.
Menagh was a founding member of Orillia’s Cultural Roundtable, chair of the Orillia Performing Arts Forum and led the Orillia Vocal Ensemble, which has raised more than $200,000 for local charities and causes.
“Roy’s vision has always been, ‘Together, we are stronger,’” Surette said, noting Menagh also spearheaded Joint Effort concerts in support of Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital, tsunami relief, and to raise money to bring a Syrian refugee family to town.
“Isn’t this just the strangest experience? That is to be receiving an award virtually. We’re living in interesting times and almost all performing arts are shut down,” Menagh said.
He was “flattered” to be nominated for an award named after Browne and to be among the other nominees.
The awards committee saved an unexpected honour until the end of the celebration.
“It didn’t seem right to leave without recognizing the year for what it was, which is challenging,” Surette said.
The pandemic has been difficult for the arts and culture industry, but there have been “many signs of resiliency and glimmers of hope despite the devastating effects of COVID-19,” she said.
That’s why the committee created the Pivot Award to recognize those who have shifted course to provide services and opportunities during the pandemic.
“While there are many who have done this, the committee felt no organization has done this as well as our two libraries — the Orillia Public Library and Ramara Public Library,” Surette said.
After being forced to shut down earlier in the year, staff held online Zoom meetings to figure out how to keep catering to the community.
They came up with a “dazzling array” of virtual services, offered curbside pickup and forgave library fines.
“Due to the pandemic, the library had to rethink how we delivered some of our services and all of our programs, literally overnight,” said Ramara Public Library CEO Janet Banfield.
They began to offer virtual online story hours, contests and reading programs.
“Staff undeniably demonstrated the resilience and ability to make positive changes very quickly to meet the needs of our community,” she said.
Orillia Public Library CEO Suzanne Campbell said she and her staff “appreciate the recognition the award gives to the importance of community engagement and, especially, community engagement during a pandemic.”
Staff “quickly pivoted to ensure the community continued to have outstanding library services,” she said, which included various online resources, including popular weekly trivia and game nights.
The library also used its 3D printer to create personal protective equipment for hospitals.
Wednesday's awards ceremony can be viewed in its entirety here.
Education in the Arts, Culture and Heritage Award
Stacey Schat and Doug Ironside
Schat and Ironside have been active in the local arts community since 2012. They ran O-Town Improv and, later, Old Dance Hall Players. Their events have raised money for various charities.
Emerging Artist Award
Norman Robert Catchpole
Catchpole moved to Orillia in 2020 after he retired.
“Norman’s work is varied, bright, colourful and detailed, and his creations are generated on a large-scale format,” Surette said. “His extraordinary ability allows him to paint anything from wildlife to pin-up girls to Group of Seven works, cityscapes, countryside and portraits.”
Chief Lady Bird
Chief Lady Bird is “a force to be reckoned with both within her community of Rama and the larger community of followers that she reaches through her various social media platforms,” Surette said of the artist, illustrator, muralist, educator and activist. “She uses her artwork as a powerful platform to bring to light her experiences as an Indigenous woman.”
Pollak has been active in the local arts scene since moving to Orillia a few years ago. She has exhibited her work in art shows and has been a member of the Orillia Fine Arts Association board. She is known for, more recently, using metallic paint to capture Ontario landscapes, as well as her photography.
Heritage: Restoration, Renovation and Publication Award
Carolyn Leclair, of Elite Printing
“Carolyn Leclair has the unique capacity of professionalism imbued with a genuine desire to see the personal success of her clientele,” Surette said, adding Leclair provides a high level of service that has enhanced historical publications and other material.
“When you need to know something about Orillia, Marcel is your go-to guy,” Surette said.
Rousseau produced the Postcard Memories series and has looked after archives at OMAH and the library.
“He’s gained an enormous appreciation for and knowledge of the area’s local history.”
Ron and Ann Harrison
The Harrisons are “lifelong advocates and practitioners of deepening the understanding of local and Canadian history,” Surette said.
That includes sharing their knowledge of the Underground Railroad and Black settlements in Canada.
“His books include tales of riots, sport figures, Orillia’s red-light district, community leadership and the inequitable treatment of First Nations peoples,” Surette explained.
Town also took a lead role in developing a storyboard that’s on display outside the former YMCA.
Event in the Arts, Culture and Heritage Award
Michael Martyn and the Essential Concert Series
Martyn took a lead role in the creation of the Essential Concert Series, which raised money for Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital and gave local musicians a platform during the pandemic. He helped “create a venue where none existed at the time,” Surette said.
What started as an iPhone video production, the series became more professionally produced as it went on.
“The results were spectacular and easily outstripped even the most high-end, A-lister live streams during these pandemic times,” Surette said.
The 13-concert series raised more than $3,000 for the hospital foundation.
Dick Johnston and Take a Vet to Dinner
“Dick’s idea was to ensure local war veterans, both active and retired, were recognized ... in a unique way, separate from Remembrance Day, for their service to our country in conflicts ranging from World War 1 to Afghanistan,” Surette said.
Johnston founded the annual Take a Vet to Dinner event, which has sold out every year since it started in 2004.
Qennefer Browne Achievement Award
Ross “Rusty” Draper
Many will remember Draper for his “homespun, somewhat corny musings while a personality at CFOR,” Surette said.
He recently released a book, Put the Kettle on Honey I'm Coming Home, a memoir that details some of his experiences with notable people and events and does a service to future generations by providing historical context.
Farquharson owns Hibernation Arts in downtown Orillia, where she exhibits visual artists but also has hosted events such as concerts and poetry readings
“She has been instrumental in organizing a number of community arts events, such as the Art Walks that were held every second Friday this summer,” Surette said.
Jackman began volunteering at OMAH in 2014 “and has been steadfast in his multiple contributions in relation to multimedia support,” Surette said.
His graphic design and social media skills have helped the organization reach a broader audience. He has also filmed OMAH’s Speaker Series to ensure those who couldn’t make it in person still got to experience the event.
“Gaia’s a remarkable individual who has achieved what most artists only dream of,” Surette said. “There is no delineation between Gaia the individual and Gaia the artist. She is refreshingly authentic as a woman, a mother, an entrepreneur and as an incredible artist.”
McGarvey has been active in the arts community for decades. He spearheaded the Orillia Community Arts Festival in the early 1980s and co-ordinated artists to take part in the Kiwanis Auction to raise money for a new YMCA. He was a founding member of the Sir Sam Steele Art Gallery, which eventually became OMAH, and was an original member of the Orillia Cultural Centre.